Mediterranean Tourism Comparison: Croatia v Greece

By 22 July 2016

How does Croatian tourism compare with one of its main competitors, Greece? After working in tourism in both countries, TCN's Danni Matijaca offers some thoughts on comparisons on the important sectors.

When it comes to expected tourism results, we have heard Croatian tourism minister say that the numbers will be great and that we are expecting a fantastic season not only because of what Croatia has to offer but also because of the situation in other markets. Although it's not exactly polite to gloat over the misfortune of others, it's not the first time our politicians are comparing us to other Mediterranean countries when it comes to tourism.

We decided to do the same, compare our services with a country we are most compared to – Greece. Yes, their tourism tradition is longer than ours, their number of exclusive resorts and hotels, in general, is 10 times larger, but there are many things in which Croatia is not only catching up but way ahead of Greece.

1. Accommodation

Even though accommodation is significantly cheaper in Greece, the quality varies depending on location, just like in any other countries. While you can find excellent 5-star hotels in Athens for half the price you're expected to pay in Croatia, private accommodation is another story. Prices may be low but the quality is questionable, especially if you go around the islands. And we are not talking about the high profile islands such as Mykonos, Crete, and Santorini. It seems that the private accommodation services in Greece are not organised at all. Everyone is doing whatever they want, there is no uniformity, and yes, when you get off the ferry, they will pull your sleeve and start shouting “rooms”, even though we like to think that only happens in Croatia. So, because of much lower standards when it comes to private accommodation, this round goes to Croatia.

2. English

It looks like Croatians were listening in school, the level of English is light-years ahead compared to Greece. Especially if you go around the islands. After a month in the country touring lesser known islands, I have to admit I developed a tennis elbow trying to explain what I was ordering or what I needed. And last but not least, finding information about certain businesses or events in English is an impossible mission. Only establishments offering info in English are large hotels, and you can forget about those on small islands. Businesses don't seem to care and my guess is they're hoping tourists will just stumble into their shop to buy something.

3. Ferries

Greece is another country with a thousand islands just like Croatia (ok, 6000 if we count all islets and rocks) but their ferries are something we should look up to when it comes to frequency and island connections. Island hopping is a very common thing in Greece so expect your ferry to touch at least two more islands before you reach your final destination. The time passengers take to embark and disembark is negligible so you are on your way to the next island before you know it. There are 3-4 different companies to chose from and 3 ticket levels depending on your hurry and of course your finances. Each ferry has at least three bars and general stores so you can pass the time. And trust me, those ferry rides are long, especially if you're heading to the Cyclades or further. At least 3.5 hours. But since the embargo on foreign and private ferries ends in Croatia in January 2017, we can hope this situation will improve quickly. Then again, Croatia has seaplanes, one method of transportation desperately needed in Greece, since being on a ferry for 10 – 12 hours to reach some islands is really not the most comfortable way to spend your holiday, especially if you're only going away for the weekend.

4. Prices and restaurants

When it comes to food and wine prices, this round would have to go to Greece. Choice of international restaurants in larger cities and high-profile islands is vast, and if you are off to smaller islands, it's traditional food wherever you turn. They fiercely protect their local cuisine, promote it and offer at very reasonable prices. And no pizza in sight. Note to our konobas, a little less cevapcici and a little more girice, srdele and blitva. One surprising thing, all dishes made from frozen ingredients on Greek islands were clearly marked on the menu (mostly talking about calamari here, but it was a nice touch).
When we talk about drinks, then Croatia takes the cake. Though you are always greeted with a pitcher or glass of cold water wherever you sit down, and a bottle of ice cold water will only set you back around 3.5 kn, beer is around 25 kn per bottle and soft drinks are around 17 kn. And don't even get me started on coffee. Everyone is drinking ice coffee frappes (round 20kn) and if you want to order a flat white that is not served in a soup dish, you will have to spend a lot of time explaining (hence the above-mentioned tennis elbow) and pay 25 kn for something even Starbucks considers to be watered down.

5. Souvenirs

This one is a tie. Fridge magnets, famous sites in snowballs, millions of colourful trinkets all made in China. But at least the sandals at Monastiraki market are local.

6. Connectivity

Considering Greece is such a strong tourism country, this may surprise you but when it comes to connectivity (outside of large cities) this round goes to Croatia hands down. Why? Well, take island Tinos for instance. It's large, beautiful, not so developed in terms of tourism since it is a pilgrimage site so priests are doing their job in keeping it a secret, but if you're not somewhere near a beach bar, in the centre of Chora or higher up in the villages on a hill, forget seeing any bars on your mobile phone. Our large group of social media addicts had phones from all Greek providers, all with the same result - "no service". Most taverns and cafes will say they have WiFi but in all honesty, only one of them actually worked. The place where I was staying, though stunning, extremely well organised, clean and well equipped, showed three different connection points (free) but not a single one worked. So, Croatia it is.

7. Service

Sorry Croatia but this one goes to Greece. Though things are improving in Croatia and tourism workers are now joining the industry because they want to work in it and not because they have to, we are still not smiling as much as we should or taking that one extra step. On the other hand, I was told by a woman with 30 years of experience as a tour guide in Athens, their standards are slipping rapidly. So, maybe in a year or two, this will also be a tie.

8. Festivals and nightlife

I have to say I am not a party goer, but since I am in the tourism industry, I have to follow events and trends. Croatia is still in the lead here in terms of large festivals and big names. But Greece is catching up fast. Only problem being that most big events are concentrated in Athens during the peak season, and given that the temperatures in the city go well over 35 degrees, these are not exactly ideal conditions for large outings. Surprisingly enough, apart from organised group trips, resident nightclub DJs and sporadic guest appearances by some mid range DJs, Greek islands are not as big on festivals as one would expect. Zrce rules!

9. Infrastructure

Croatia, Croatia, Croatia. And by infrastructure I mean roads. It's the middle of summer and roadworks on Greek highways are in full swing. Some of the new routes have opened just in time for the tourist season but they still have a long way to go to get close to the Croatian A1 highway. Plus there are so many toll booths along the way you have to stop every 10 km and search for change. Every time I am on the road towards Patra I miss the Dalmatina and A1, smooth two + 1 lane ride and great rest stops. I even miss the occasional detour because of Bura.

Conclusion? Each destination has its advantages and disadvantages but Croatia has improved rapidly in terms of quality, especially when it comes to accommodation and large events. Of course, everyone has their own opinion, and maybe I am a little subjective when it comes to Croatia, but a few more upgrades here and there and there and we will be able to rub shoulders with the biggest and the best destinations in the world.